Don Messick: the man with a million voices

Father Bob Murphy meets voice artist Don Messick.

Here is a quick Baby Boomer quiz that will give away your age: Which of the following groups of cartoon characters do you remember from your childhood:

Group No. 1: Ruff of Ruff and Reddy; Boo-Boo, Pixie, and Iggy from the original Hucklebery Hound Show; and Tadpole from Spunky and Tadpole.

Group No. 2: Dr. Quest from Johnny Quest; Astro from The Jetsons; Ricochet Rabbit from The Manila Gorilla Show; and Bam-Bam from The Flint stones.

Group No. 3: Mutley from Dick Dastardly and Mutly in their Flying Machines; Scooby Doo and Scrappy Doo from The Scooby Doo Show; and Sebastian from Josie and the Pussycats.

Group No. 4: Sparerib from Heathcliff and Dingbat; Papa Smart from The Smurfs; and Itchy from The Pound Puppies.

Group No. 5: Droopy from Droopy, Master Detective.

If you remember Group No. 1, you are an old duffer like me as these shows originated in the mid to late 1950s. Group No. 2 puts you a child in the groovy sixties; Group No. 3 in the swinging seventies; Group No. 4 in the odious eighties; and if Group No. 5 is what you remember as a child, you’re no Baby Boomer! You’re a baby, as this show is in current production!

What links all of these shows together is that each character was voiced by the multi-talented Don Messick!

Reddy (seated) and Ruff, Hanna-Barbera’s first television heroes.

Messick is best remembered for his long association with Hanna-Barbera where he created not only the above-mentioned characters but many, many more, and was the narrator in almost every show. His vocal talents are also found in cartoons by such legendary names as Tex Avery; David DePatie; and Friz Freleng.

Born in Buffalo, New York in 1926, Don grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland. As a fourteen year old boy, he studied ventriloquism. This led to him entering a local talent contest on a radio show. Don was so successful in this venture that he began to entertain at various functions promoted by the show. Lions Club dinners and the like began to hone his talent. By the age of 15, he had graduated to his own radio show where he not only wrote the script but voiced all of the characters as well! This lasted two years and led to live performances. After high school, Don went to Baltimore and entered an acting school but it was radio that had the greatest influence on Don. He recently remarked that many of the early cartoon voices came from the golden age of radio. (Don followed the great Bill Thompson as the voice of Droopy first in a Tex Avery cartoon when Thompson was ill and presently in the new series Droopy, Master Detective. Thompson had originated this voice on The Fibber McGee and Molly Show as timid Wallace Wimple!) Don continued his radio work in such regional shows as “Let George Do It” and the occasional national show such as Nightbeat starring Frank Lovejoy; NBC Theater of the Air; and, with the late Dinah Shore, in an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

In 1947, Don was in a radio acting workshop sponsored by the union and had the good fortune to get to know the director Robert Light. This workshop brought in national producers, writers, and sponsors from radio. Bob Light referred Don to Paula Stone who was starting a new radio show The Raggedy Ann Show (which also became a series of popular children’s records.) Don was hired to do the voice of Raggedy Andy. This went on for 39 weeks until a strike from the Musicians union brought that show to an abrupt halt.

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